Review: The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys (9780399160318)

Daniel and his parents travel to Madrid for his father to complete an oil deal with the dictator, Franco. Daniel’s mother is from Spain and he speaks fluent Spanish. A budding photojournalist, Daniel is competing for a prestigious photography award, one that will allow him to go to journalism school even if his father won’t pay for it. But Spain is not the country he expected to find, particularly when he starts to photograph it. A single photo of a nun with a dead baby gets the attention of Franco’s police as well as of the man who is developing Daniel’s film. As Daniel looks more closely at the real story of Spain under Franco, he discovers a deep connection with Ana, the maid assigned to his family’s rooms. He meets Ana’s brother, who is helping his friend become a matador, something usually not done by those living in poverty. Ana’s entire family is working to keep a roof over their heads and dream of eventually moving out of the slums of Madrid. All is complicated by politics, violence, threats and power, where survival may be all they can hope for.

A simply amazing book that will take readers deep into Madrid in the 1950’s and 1960’s where Franco’s dictatorship makes rules for everyone to live under, suppressing ideas and freedoms. Madrid herself plays a large role in the story, captivating even with such a smothering society. Pleasures are found, such as photographs, candies and dinners out but they are hauntingly contrasted with the poverty in Spain. Ana and Daniel’s existences are vastly different with the American simply expecting things that are only available to the wealthiest in Madrid.

The romance between Ana and David is pure bliss. Naturally building and hemmed in by the strict societal rules, it has the deliciousness of a Victorian romance. The two characters are different in so many ways, and yet also have a strong ethical code, a willingness to stand up for others, and an ability to sacrifice themselves that pulls them together along with their physical attraction for one another.

Skillful and haunting, this look at Spain’s history is vivid and unflinching. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Philomel.

Review: Gravity by Sarah Deming

Gravity by Sarah Deming

Gravity by Sarah Deming (9780525581031)

Once Gravity found her way to the Cops ‘n Kids gym, a place with no address, she couldn’t stop going. There was a smell the gym of boys and sweat, and it gave her a real reason to hit something and hit it hard. As Gravity got older, she got better at boxing, quickly becoming a young boxer to watch in the circuit. She headed undefeated into meets that could lead her to the Olympics, but her home life was a mess. Her mother was an abusive alcoholic who was best when she was ignoring Gravity and her little brother. Her father had left, returned and then disappeared again. Now Gravity had a way forward, a way to create a future for herself and her brother separate from her mother. All she had to do was win, and she worked hard and wanted it badly. But nothing comes easily, especially in boxing.

I must admit that I’m not usually a fan of sports novels, but Deming’s novel of Gravity and her battles to make it out of poverty and abuse caught me and held me in its sweaty arms. Deming herself has personal knowledge of boxing as a New York City Golden Gloves champion and boxing journalist. She takes that knowledge and allows readers to see beyond the physicality and violence of boxing into the art and skill of the sport. Her writing is fast paced and the bouts themselves are readable, understandable, and sometimes bloody.

Gravity is a fantastic heroine, someone who is resilient and strong both in her heart and her body. She is confident but not overly so, someone that readers will relate to and understand deeply as she is shown so clearly and vividly in this novel. Gravity is also someone who loves deeply, including family and her coach. This novel doesn’t shrink away from sex either, nicely never shaming the participants either.

A gripping, feminist sports novel that will grab readers and not let them go. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House. 

Review: The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones (9780316418416)

Ryn is the daughter of the gravedigger in her small village next to the forest. When her father didn’t return from the mines, she took over his job. But the forest has always been full of legends and now the dead seem to be returning to life. The bone houses, as Ryn calls them, are scoffed at by the others in the village. When Ryn rescues a young man, Ellis, who grew up in the prince’s castle, she finds a new way to bring some coin to her small family. But the bone houses continue to rise, soon becoming a wave of zombies so large no one in the village can deny their existence. Ryn and Ellis set off to find the mythical cauldron that had caused the bone houses to rise. It means heading deep into the dangerous forest and through the mine where Ryn’s father perished. Along the way, they learn about the wonders of the curse, find the pieces of Ellis’s mysterious past, and discover how it and they fit together.

I adored the premise of this book, which is a medieval setting full of mythical creatures who have all vanished that is facing a zombie apocalypse. The weaving of poverty, cruel landlords, stubborn goats, beloved family and newfound friends together is intoxicating. Add in the horrors of the risen dead, and it’s an amazing amalgamation that really works well.

A large part of its success is Ryn herself. She is a determined protagonist who refuses to leave her family’s home behind even with bone houses everywhere. She is fearless as she battles them, gentle with the dead, and full of contradictions. She is opinionated, funny and entirely fabulous even when she is muddy from head to toe. Ellis is also a great character. He has a weak arm which he treats with natural painkillers. It is an issue on their journey but doesn’t ever get used as an excuse for him not being successful as they travel. He is studious, introspective and forever surprising Ryn with what he says. The two are a great pair, and who doesn’t love a woman who can wield both a shovel and an axe with such skill.

A great zombie book with plenty of brains about it. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.

Review: Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin (9780062878021)

Lou lives in the city as a thief, stealing what she needs to survive, feasting when possible on sweets, and dressing herself in costumes from the theater attic where she lives. Because her life depends on it, she tries to never use her witch magic, lest her mother discover where she is. Reid is a witchhunter, raised from an orphaned baby into one of the leaders of the Church Chasseurs. He not only hunts witches but kills them, usually ultimately burning them at the stake if they live that long. When Lou tries to escape Reid by publicly shaming him, they end up being forced to marry one another. As the war between the witches and the church escalates, Reid and Lou find themselves at the center of it just as they discover their increasing feelings for one another.

If you are looking for one amazing teen fantasy novel, you have found it here. Mahurin builds a great world for her characters, one with extensive history that impacts the action in the novel in an understandable and fascinating way. As more of the details of the history are revealed, the cunning nature of the witches’ plans become more clears as well as the motivations of the church. It’s a book that untangles itself in front of the reader and yet leaves plenty of questions to be answered in a future volume.

The book mixes romance and fantasy. It has one of the hottest sex scenes I have read in a teen novel too where details are not skimped on and the woman takes the lead. As with that scene, Lou is not ever one to shrink away from saying what she thinks and needs. She is prickly and jaded, falling for Reid despite all of the guards she has in place. Reid could have simply been the bemused soldier in all of this, but Mahurin has made him Lou’s equal in the book, so that readers understand the damage done by both the witches and the church to society and individuals.

An amazing and gripping fantasy romance. Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Publisher’s Weekly Best Teen Books of 2019

Publisher’s Weekly publishes a list of the best books every year. Here are their picks for the best teen reads of 2019:

Angel Mage The Downstairs Girl

Angel Mage by Garth Nix

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Gravity Kiss Number 8

Gravity by Sarah Deming

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw

The Last True Poets of the Sea Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Ordinary Girls Out of Salem

Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh

Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve

Patron Saints of Nothing Pet

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Shout Slay

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Slay by Brittney Morris

Spies: The Secret Showdown Between America and Russia Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc

Spies: The Secret Showdown Between America and Russia by Marc Favreau

Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc by David Elliott

The Waning Age We Rule the Night

The Waning Age by S.E. Grove

We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett

With the Fire on High

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Let It Snow – The Trailer

A Netflix film based on Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle:

The movie will be released on Netflix on November 8, 2019.

2019 Teen Top Ten

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YALSA has announced the winners of the 2019 Teen’s Top Ten List. Here they are:

#Murdertrending (MurderTrending, #1) American Panda

#MurderTrending by Gretchen McNeil

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Batman: Nightwalker (DC Icons, #2) Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1)

Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1) The Poet X

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Prince and the Dressmaker Speak: The Graphic Novel

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe, #2) Wildcard (Warcross, #2)

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Wildcard by Marie Lu

 

Review: Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist by David Almond

Joe Quinn's Poltergeist by David Almond

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist by David Almond, illustrated by Dave McKean (9781536201604)

At first Davie doesn’t believe that Joe Quinn has a poltergeist in his home. After all, Joe has told lies before about his family. But when Davie and his best friend head over to Joe’s house to witness it themselves, they see bread and butter fly through the air, chips hit the wall, and dishes break. Davie himself lost a sister when she was very little, and he longs to know if ghosts are real because if so, she might still be there. But could it just be Joe playing a prank? Perhaps bringing the village priest in will help make things more clear and perhaps it will cloud things even more.

Almond and McKean have created several of the most inventive and incredible graphic novels in the last few years, including The Savage, Slog’s Dad, and Mouse Bird Snake Wolf. It is great to see another of their weird collaborations. This book is not about answering questions about whether ghosts exist. It’s about grief and loss, violence and families, and being willing to live with questions unanswered. It is a book that takes a short story by Almond and turns it into something visceral and pointed, a book for Halloween yes, but also for everyday darkness and wonder as well.

The illustrations by McKean are filled with sharp edges, fractured panes. They have characters who writhe on the page, almost beyond human and filled with amazing flaws. There are times of amazing green grass and sunshine, others of the sun breaking through blood-red clouds, others of filled with shadows of prison bars. The images are stunning in their stretched-out haunting nature.

A graphic novel that is not for everyone, but fans of dark corners will love what they find here. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Slay by Brittney Morris

Slay by Brittney Morris

Slay by Brittney Morris (9781534445420)

Kiera spends her days at high school as one of the only black kids other than her boyfriend and her sister. She is regularly asked by the white kids about what is discriminatory and asked to speak for her entire race. Her sister and boyfriend are both activists and speak loudly and clearly about what is oppressive. But Kiera has her own opinions and they come out in the video game, SLAY, she designed that is specifically focused on giving black gamers their own safe space online. Hundreds of thousands of people now play SLAY, but no one in her life knows that Kiera plays it at all, much less that it is actually her game. When a boy gets killed over game money though, everyone is looking for the elusive game developer. The game gets labeled anti-white by some people and soon Kiera finds herself in the battle of a lifetime to defend her game and keep it from collapsing.

Writing about video games can be nearly impossible. The problem is capturing the action and abilities on screen while still keeping the game believable and understandable. Morris does this extremely well. She marries a battle card game with an MMORPG, which works particularly well. It’s a game that readers will want to play themselves, which is a tribute to how well Morris describes the game, gameplay and the world she has created.

Morris has also created great human characters in this novel. Kiera is smart and capable, channeling her energy and anger at the casual racism of other games into building one of her own. I love that we get to enter Kiera’s story after the development of the game and once it is already popular. The novel also wrestles very directly with racism, with stereotypes, and with being yourself in a world that excludes you and your voice.

A brilliant video game book that celebrates being black and the many dimensions that brings. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.